Collected Critical Comments on the Freedom Ship project

This page contains critical comments by a large number of people on the realism of the Freedom Ship project. These comments were selected, but not written, by Patri Friedman. For Patri's comments, go here.

Unless indicated otherwise, these comments are from posts on the Ship World bulletin board, an independent web-based forum site for discussing the ship. Since the forum was public, I feel it is OK to reproduce these posts.

Freedom Ship Is Not About Freedom; or, How To Live On A Floating Police State By Adam Booksmith, an article suggesting that even if the FS was built, it might not be a nice place to live.

Tom Ledbetter's comments from the seminar held in Florida in January (2002) have been added.

Note: Now that I am referencing more active threads, in some places I link to the Ship World boards directly, instead of copying the material.

More recent posts (2002)

mike doty
posted 01-19-2002 05:24 PM

Having worked with FS management over the last several years, I can say with
certainty that it is not a scam. While I have not agreed with some of the decisions
and management style of the project, I have never seen any intent to defraud. I
think it would be good if the www.izzy site showed both sides of the 'scam'
discussion regarding FS

Here are Tom Ledbetters posts (and some responses) about the 1/02 FSI seminar. Note that non project-critical threads (healthcare and education, for example) have not been included.

Octavian has the following background: i have lived in U.S. for the last 16 yrs.I am a graduate of Romanian Naval Academy,Merchant Mariner,Navigation Section.I have worked in San Diego ,Ca.for 4 yrs as a marina maintenance manager,and now i live in Florida.I do have a lot of experience in all the phases of marine industry,and also am familiar with many of the projects of V.L.F.S(very large floating strutures),from Freedomship(a 10 billion rust bucketg) name it. He wrote the following to me in personal correspondence, which he gave me permission to add to this site: "Yes,I met with Mr.Roger Gooch,of Freedomship in May 2001 in Palm Harbor,Fl,@his request to consult on the Freedomship design.I did advised him on the following:1)Against the steel overall construction,due to high cost and maintenance expenses.2)Against hull shape(flat bottom)without keels,would create high drift to leeward which would mean high costs of fuel in the long run due to more engine RPM's to keep a given heading.I sugested a "3keel" design for more lateral resistance(you will see it in my designs).3) Against the small size of freeboard, bow,beam and height of the whole structure.4)Against overall size&price of the project.5)Against the Marina location at the stern of the structure.(The simple question was:"Have you ever docked in somebody's wake?)"

Kelly Starks
posted 01-22-2002 06:49 AM



Originally posted by Tom Ledbetter:
Well then, consider the whole thing a giant thought
experiment, which until they get our money, is exactly
what it is.


I've been in web though experiment groups that put more thought into the
design, and don't sound so much like used car salesmen. They also don't
take money, turn away expert help, or hide from questions.


Originally posted by Tom Ledbetter:

Freedom Ship is a fascinating project and there is a lot of
fun to be had discussing the 'yes' and 'no' of it. Members
of this board did all that two+ years ago, and then things
quieted down to nothing. Now I have some new
information, which I'll be parsing out as discussion
expands, and I think we can have some fun with that.


Here we agree. Though with the FS project not looking credable, this board
soon lost enthusiasm for debate how such a project could be done.

Once burned, twice shy I guess. Also the concept doesn't sound as much
fun if you look at the reality of stuck in a tiny windowless cabin, deep in this
huge ship, far out in the open ocean. A more open airy design, and
something that might actually have a beach or be able to vist ports, might
be a lot more apealing.


Originally posted by Tom Ledbetter:

So please continue with "That can't happen" and "what
about this..?" postings ... that is the heart of what makes
this project interesting. I don't want to see this bulletin
board become a la-la land of utopian optimism; that'd get




Originally posted by Tom Ledbetter:

But I -really- don't think it is a con-job. If it were, it'd be
slicker and way more convincing.


Convinced you, and most folks here before a knowledgable person
stumbled in and did some checking. Both pointing out the rather obvious
technical gaps, and checking around to find out all their claims were bogus.

Then FSI first got evasive, then cut contact and links to the site off.



Originally posted by Tom Ledbetter:

Quite true, at least to the extent needed to pull this off.
This is because they don't have any captial yet ... only so
much can be done on a volunteer basis. [and my posts will
show that -some- work has been done, but it is still all

The real question is, who are they going to ask to fund the
proof-of-concept for this? Joe & Mary Average, or real
venture capitalists?


The real question is if they are now just a theoretical concept, why were
they boldly stateing the design was all wraped up and they were about to
start construction? Even stateing they had started purchase of steel and
aranged for the ship yard stuff?

posted 01-22-2002 01:26 PM

I think that Tom has given us a new outlook on the project. The most
charitable spin is that Norm and his friends are working out their thought
experiment and did not want to have to deal with a bunch of negative
vibes from people looking over their shoulders.

One of the final discussions we had before we wandered away was "Okay,
it looks like a scam, but who are they scamming??" It wasn't the people
sending in deposits, because that money was in escrow, we wondered if it
was the corporations who wanted to buy space for stores and hotels, but
no evidence was available.

Tom has given us the most plausible answer to date: "They're scammimg
themselves!!" In other words they want to live this dream for as long as
they can. They have no ability or desire to shut it down since it isn't costing
them a whole lot and they are getting a lot of enjoyment out of it.

This is a bit like some of the role-playing that goes on on the web with
pseudonyms and unverifiable claims. We should not begrudge them their

As to the claimed schedules and such, I am willing to interpret that as
wishful thinking: "If we had the financing in place and the plans drawn up,
we could actually start building the base barge sometime next year! Wow!"
You all know how a statement like that can get shortened as it gets
interpreted by multiple listeners.

Now that we know the final installment of the rules, there is no reason why
we can't start our own game. If they don't want us kibitzing, let's go down
the street a bit, and do our own thing. They have a focus on the
engineering structure, and no concept of urban planning, international law,
and other equally important disciplines. Let's pick up where we left off and
build our own, livable, sustainable floating environment right here on this
BBS. The main new rule is "Do not say 'it cannot be done because...'
Instead, describe the problem and start proposing solutions."

If all of the miracles fall into place and the ship actually does get built, I am
sure that FSI would not ignore the wealth of blue sky ideas that we have
generated. We already have the topics mapped out so let's get back to


posted 01-26-2002 02:40 PM

Kelly wrote:Well that could be part of it. As long as they can rake in
investor money, they can live well and promote their dream idea. When a
investor realizes its all handwaving with no substance. Well they can't get
their money back, and FSI can just move on to another investor - after
another magazine article.


About a year ago I mentioned that there are many ways for a con to work
--- not always at a cost to the obvious/visual victim. The real con is
perpetuated on a party one or two steps removed. I didn't mention
examples, but a fairly small con is quite prevalent in the travel industry: a
"writer" gets some form of accreditation from a publication preposing to
write an article about destination X. The "writer" goes to X and flaunts
this,either fake, or at best, luke warm letter of interest from the the
publication. The locals, especially during bad times lose common sense, go
out of their way to accomodate this 'important' media person by comping
meals and lodgings. No article ever was intended to be written --- if the
"writer" is ever questioned he can claim his 'laudatory' article was spiked.
Cheap vacation.

Now suppose I'm claiming a planned major investment in a third world
country and I have a file of published articles from well known magazines,
newspapers, and television documentaries attesting to my project. Might
just be worth a bit more then just three squares and a Motel 7 :-) In fact I
'might' even invest some time and money collecting a small list of potential
buyers of my 'product' to show my integrity. Not that this scenario would
ever happen, or work, in the real world.

What ifs can be fun.

Older posts (pre-2002)

A long thread called Further thoughts on design and construction contains many criticisms of FS's engineering design from a knowledgeable marine engineer.

"We've all asked extreamly valid, reasonable, and customary questions. Any serious project could and would answer the bulk of then easily. FSI can't/won't. Hell I did far more technical explanations on the website I worked up on possible real starship designs for late this century. So, if I can work up more detail for a thought experiment club website. Why can't Norm for a real multibillion dollar project? Certainly other multibillion dollar projects I've seen do far more. Also again much of the info given is deceptive or evasive. THAT is a MAJOR red flag."

"Aside from my own knowledge of engineering and nautical engineering, which confirm the questions; and a bit of research; their is FSI's very unusual inability to answer any of the questions. Worse, is the rapid way they closed communications when the questions came up from sources with serious credentials. This is not consistent with a healthy project. It is consistent with dieing ones."

posted 01-02-2001 08:09 AM by Kelly Starks


Originally posted by alpine:
As a Freedom Ship "insider" I may be able to answer some of the frustrated
questions you may have concerning the project at this point in time. == As a fairly
new insider on the project, I have followed this site for some time with disgust of all
the whining!!! The majority of the post sound adolescnet at best. I understand that
everyone has their own views on the many facets of the project. However, I
suggest that anyone taking on raising money for an $8,000,000,000.00 project stop
and think just how hard it is to even negotiate that amount of have
NO clue!!!!! === I can honestly say that everyone at FSI are working hard
everyday to make this project a reality....The ONLY thing standing in our way is
MONEY!!!! So, if any complainers have a few million or billion they want to part with,
then be patient and try to understand that this is no small undertaking!!!!!!


If you want serious intrest from the kind of investors that can sign checks with that many zeroes. Instead of petty insults, you might want to have some answers! Why is the info on the site decptive, and now very carfully filtered down into comments so vague as to be meaning less? Why has no one been able to answer any of the basic technical questions, like how will it meet international safty standards? Why doesn't anyone in FSI seem aware the issues involved in building and operating something on this scale? Why haven't any of the supliers for the equipment/resources FSI says they are using, ever heard of FSI? Why does the website still show the out of date, simplistic graphics of years ago, when we keep hearing about the months of work going into new graphics?

What we've heard has been lame excuses about secret talks and designs (no way every scrap of work is so advanced and valuble you can't talk about any of it, especially if Norm Still hasn't reviewed the basics), disinformation (like the steel contract with Pakistan?), personal insults for anyone asking a question, patranizing reassurences (don't worry about technical issues, smarter people then you are looking into it. So just talk about lifestyle.), and constant pleas for money and general sales pitchs.

In short. Put up or shut up. You want folks to buy into (literally and figurativly) the FS floating condo. Its time to show that you even heard of the term foundation and fire escapes, know about the laws you have to obey, and have designs past the sketchs on the website.

posted 01-02-2001 01:43 PM by JL Lawson


]"If FS feels everything they say is going to be attacked, why should they make any effort to communicate with us?"

Perhaps to pre-empt the criticism? I mean, it'd be nice if they'd say "This is what we're planning on, and this is what we've explored as alternatives - what do you think?" I've seen very few stupid posts on this board - I'd say the average intelligence of the posters is rather right on the bell curve
- what would they have to lose from exploring the ideas? At the end of an examination period, for example, they could say "thanks for the input, we've decided to do it this way" - and go ahead without having to further justify themselves.

But right now - they could be trying to corner the world's production of unobtainium for the next five years to construct the cells out of, for all we know.

And that's the problem - they aren't SAYING anything of substance that can be either argued with or against. Instead, there's just smoke and mirrors, and very little to be found on-line that either verifies or disproves what they're saying.

Sure, I know that absense of evidence isn't the same as evidence of absence, but like Kelly says, with a project as supposedly large as this one there ought to be SOME evidence out there. Instead, there's nothing.

They make an arrangement to buy megatons of steel, 100+ power plants or 10,000 incinerator toilets, the trade journals are going to take notice. And that info will eventually find it's way on line, perhaps with a little blurb of "World's largest ship needs thousands of toilets".

But like Kelly said - there's no bow wave. There's not even a ripple. I have a difficult time believing that something so expensive, that will need so many differing materials and products in such large quantities is progressing along well with no outward trace.

Strict non-disclosure agreements, perhaps? Maybe, but why?

(BTW, unobtainium is the engineer's dream metal. It's lighter than aluminum, stronger than titanium, machines and welds easily, and won't corrode. And doesn't exist, darn it...)

posted 01-03-2001 07:25 PM by J.L. Lawson


You posted...

"FSI has no design, no capital, no trade secrets or expertice, no facilities, no reputation in the field. Few even know they exist."

Just for grins, go to Alta Vista and do a search on 'Nixon' and 'FreedomShip'. I found 19 pages, 3 of which were in languages other than English.

I went to Google, 23 and 5 foreign. NorthernLight - 16 items, 11 sources and 1 was in a language other than English.

I did a search on the Roton SSTO spacecraft at Northerlight - 210 items, 121 sources.

The info just isn't out there. And I must admit I wonder about the foriegn interest.

Also, one of the items on one of the sites caught my eye. At Nixon answered some questions.

#12 - Is your technology scalable, and will you license it?

Norman Nixon: "The technology is so simple that it can't be licensed since all engineers already know how to do it. No one would buy it. However, for communications technology aboard the Freedom Ship, I have people working on proprietary technologies that we hope to patent.

"The technology is so simple that it can't be licensed since all engineers already know how to do it.

That, unfortunately, blows one thought out of the water - that he does have some new process that he's keeping under wraps. Maybe we're looking at ferrocement cells with walls 10 feet thick?

(Google search on 'Norman Nixon', concrete ship building produced 2 hits...)

It's frustrating. Fog instead of facts.

From the USS Clueless weblog comes another analysis:

The theory is that the purpose of building it on a hull is that it could sail around ("As it circumnavigates the world..."); it is certainly a poetic image to think of a city voting on whether to sail to the Mediterranean or the Caribbean next, or maybe we ought to visit Fiji -- but it's a crock. The reason is that a hundred thousand people and a ship carrying them will consume massive amounts of supplies, and that's going to have to be delivered to this thing somehow. "Daily purchases by the ship from farm co-ops, packers, and distributors will provide a constant supply of fresh meat, fish, dairy, and produce." In the middle of the Pacific Ocean? Not too damned many farm co-ops two thousand miles south-east of Honolulu.

If it's not tied up at a dock, it will have to be met every day or so by cargo ships just to unload all the bulk cargo needed to keep everyone on board alive, let alone happy. Move too far from your source of supply and everyone on board will starve. The further you are from your base, the longer it takes for a cargo ship to reach you and the more cargo ships you'll need. The number of support ships available will put distinct upper limits on how far this thing can go from its home port; they'll stretch like a chain between it and home base. It isn't practical to use the nearest port because there's no way to arrange all the commercial cargo needed on a catch-as-catch-can basis. There's no possible way of supplying it primarily by air, since the largest plane which will be able to land on it is a 2-engine turboprop capable of carrying 40 people. You're talking maybe 3 tons of cargo in a plane that size; for a hundred thousand people that's enough to last about a minute and a half, and a plane like that only has a range of about a five hundred miles (since it has to carry its own fuel for the return trip). Counting fuel and ship's consumables and spare parts and consumer goods and food, you can figure at least twenty pounds of supplies per person per day for normal operation. In other words, you need at least thousand tons of cargo per day. You're also going to have to carry away perhaps a quarter of that in the form of garbage and other refuse. (The rest floats away as smoke out the ship's stack or is dumped as effluent into the ocean.)


Of course, this thing isn't going to happen. The whole concept is preposterous. And it's interesting that they actually have an entire page on their site for "common misperceptions", and that one of them denies that this is a scam. (Never trust anyone who says "I'm not cheating you; I've never cheated anyone.") I won't say it's a scam, but I will say that the people who have already ponied up money for it won't ever actually see it launch. Better to have spent that money buying oil drilling rights on the Moon.

A post from the Ship Modelers Online Mailing list.

From: "Kelvin Mok" <>
Subject: Re: Scratch building time! a mile of styrene...

>> Here's an interesting story....a ship a mile long. I remember seeing an article about this in popular mechanics or pop sci a couple years back...I never thought they'd build it but apparently it will be built. Let's see in 1/700 scale that's about 7.5 ft! Man that is one big puppy! <<

A large ship, with regular maintenance such as drydocking and scraping the barnacles off the hull will last about 20 years. How do you maintain a mile long ship?

30 thousand owners/passengers with 10 thousand staff. Only multi-millionaires can afford this (3:1) level of staffing. What about running costs to keep the ship afloat and sailing?

At one of the club meetings years ago (' 80s), there was an explanation why those new super-duper oil tankers were breaking up off South Africa. The huge south Atlantic rolls there had a period where the crest between two giant waves left the mid section of the hull in the air thus snapping its keel. These tankers are now articulated. Will passengers in this giant ship tolerate articulated hulls?

And with advanced large heavily (govt.) subsidized shipyards all over the world why build such an unprecedented design in Honduras? The Honduran industrial capacity is suspect.

Nothing adds up.

Kelvin Mok

Another post from the Ship Modelers Online Mailing list.

Subject: Scratch building the Freedom Ship

I would not start building the mile long "Freedom Ship" just yet. It is still in the "planning and design stage", as has been the case for the last 15 years. It was intended to be a floating business community for "like minded people" who could afford it. Of course, a year or two ago it was discovered that their planning did not include any facilities for children and so the design (the brochures at least) were quickly modified to include facilities for children. There is another glitch, some of the investors want booze and gambling on board while other investors want a dry ship and no gambling. Since this is to be a Freedom ship, this poses quite a problem.

My personal opinion is that the Freedom ship is, and always has been a scam. Once it was going the be built in the Philippines, now it is Honduras, and always "this summer". Present plans are to "start small" and ad modules when financing permits, until the ship is a mile long. The length, by the way, is partly to accommodate a carrier deck for corporate jets. If I had invested $100K in this project a few years ago, I would be pretty nervous about now.

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